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On trade, our former partners are moving on without us

While our former TPP partners finalized their new trade agreement without us, Donald Trump isolates us with new tariffs.
US President Donald Trump takes part in a listening session on gun violence with teachers and students in the State Dining Room of the White House on...

It was just a few weeks ago that 25 Republican senators, including a member of the GOP leadership, released a joint letter to Donald Trump, urging the White House to "re-engage with the Trans-Pacific Partnership." A week later, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that "it is something the president will consider."

It's a little late for that.

A trade pact originally conceived by the United States to counter China's growing economic might in Asia now has a new target: President Trump's embrace of protectionism.A group of 11 nations -- including major United States allies like Japan, Canada and Australia -- signed a broad trade deal on Thursday in Chile's capital, Santiago, that challenges Mr. Trump's view of trade as a zero-sum game filled with winners and losers.Covering 500 million people on either side of the Pacific Ocean, the pact represents a new vision for global trade as the United States imposes steel and aluminum tariffs on even some of its closest friends.

The timing was quite striking. As Rachel noted at the top of last night's show, while our former partners finalized their new trade agreement -- without many of the provisions U.S. negotiators fought successfully to include during the Obama era -- Donald Trump, who rejected the TPP without ever making clear he knew what it was, announced new tariffs denounced by our allies.

And as regular readers know, the practical effects are obvious: the United States is now more isolated. A Washington Post  report in the fall noted that when Trump withdrew, it “created a vacuum other nations are now moving to fill, with or without the president.”

Around the same time, FiveThirtyEight had a related piece, noting that the Republican’s plans “backfired.” The analysis added, “Japan, the world’s third-biggest economy, has assumed the leadership role. Canada, initially a reluctant member of the club, volunteered to host one of the first post-Trump meetings of the remaining TPP countries to work on a way forward – perhaps because research shows that Canadians will do better if they have preferential access that their American cousins lack. Smaller, poorer countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia wanted freer trade with the U.S. but agreed to consider improved access to countries such as Australia, Canada and Japan as a consolation prize for years of hard bargaining."

There’s a lot of this going around. The New York Times  added in January:

[A]s the global economy gains strength, Europe and countries including Japan and China are forging ahead with deals that do not include the United States.Thirty-five new bilateral and regional trade pacts are under consideration around the world, according to the World Trade Organization. The United States is party to just one of them, with the European Union, and that negotiation has gone dormant. The United States is also threatening to withdraw from one of its existing multilateral agreements — the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada — if it cannot be renegotiated in the United States’ favor.

Phil Levy, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and an economist in the George W. Bush administration, told the Times, “Maybe there was some sort of presumption on the part of the president and his team that if the U.S. said stop, this process would come to a halt. What this shows is that’s not true. The world just moves on without us.”